NAACP Writes Big Advertisers in Diversity Push

NEW YORK The effort to substantially increase African-American representation in the advertising industry has shifted to a client outreach phase, with the NAACP writing letters to the leaders of top-spending advertisers, including Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley.

In a letter dated Monday (READ LETTER), NAACP interim general counsel Angela Ciccolo asked Lafley to “instruct your advertising agencies to use diverse teams in creative and account management positions” and to address the relative paucity of African-Americans in advertising “as forcefully and effectively as its importance to your firm and the nation requires.”

The letter further suggests that P&G identify a senior executive to meet with the NAACP, which is partnering with civil rights law firm Mehri & Skalet on the diversity initiative, known as the Madison Avenue Project.

The letter includes findings from a previously released report that quantifies what initiative leaders describe as wide gaps in representation, income levels and promotion opportunities between black and white employees that have existed for decades. The report asserts, for example, that entry-level black workers, on average, make 80 cents for every dollar earned by their white counterparts, and that based in part on black representation in other industries, African-Americans should comprise 9.6 percent of the industry’s U.S workforce of 167,000, not the current 5.3 percent.

The 73-page report, “Research Perspective on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry,” was released in January when the Madison Avenue Project went public.

Mehri & Skalet founding partner Cyrus Mehri is leading the charge for the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, which previously extracted settlements of discrimination lawsuits from Coca-Cola and Texaco. In other cases, such as with the National Football League or Morgan Stanley, the firm achieved anti-discriminatory policies without suing. In a video interview prior to today’s news, Mehri acknowledged that litigation remains an option for the Madison Avenue Project, though he’s hopeful that leading ad holding companies will “see this an opportunity to take what they’ve done [to increase African-American representation] as a baseline and lift up to a much higher level.” (WATCH VIDEO)

The NAACP sent similar letter to 24 other major marketers, including AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Sprint Nextel, Sears, Kraft Foods, Bank of America, Anheuser-Busch InBev, General Electric, Time Warner, Walt Disney Co. and six automakers: General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The companies were the top 25 ad spenders of 2007, when collectively they spent more than $52 billion in the U.S., according to the Madison Avenue Project.

P&G has received its letter and “we want to take the time to understand the report that was referenced” in it, a company representative said this afternoon.

The rep added “diversity is extremely important at P&G. We have a company-wide practice of valuing diverse employees. We also have a robust supplier diversity program.”